Diwali 2019 | What’s all this noise about environment during Diwali?
By George Julius Williams
Diwali is just around the corner, and as in previous years, environmentalists in India are hell-bent on enlightening people and giving sound advice on the effects of air and noise pollution during this holy festival of lights (and sound).
The exploding cries of the environmentalists forced Supreme Court last year to intervene and spur the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to direct its National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) in Nagpur to develop “green crackers”.
A team at NEERI comprising of 24 scientists cum researchers and helmed by Dr. Mrs. Sadhana Rayul, took nine months to develop the first prototypes, followed by tests to produce India’s first ‘green fireworks’.
And this Diwali, these would be tested by people.
The project led by the CSIR-NEERI has come up with green firecrackers, which will not contain, or have in reduced amounts, polluting chemicals such as aluminum, potassium nitrate and carbon. By doing so, the government claims, these fireworks will release 30% less particulate matter (PM) 2.5 and PM 10 into the atmosphere. That means, emissions will come down by 15 to 30 %. Also, CSIR has developed flower pots/anaars that can reduce particulate matter by 40%.
The eco-friendly firecrackers are named Safe Water Releaser (SWAS), Safe Thermite Cracker (STAR) and Safe Minimal Aluminium (SAFAL). These will release water vapour into the air as a dust suppressant and dilute gaseous emissions
Unfortunately, only a handful of companies are manufacturing ‘green firecrackers’. In the firecracker-manufacturing hub of Sivakasi, just a few factories have got the required ‘green’ licences. The area has 1,070 factories, employing around 300,000 people, while another 500,000 are involved in ancillary businesses such as boxing of firecrackers.
A Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) official feels that more makers will come forward once the top court gives its decision on barium nitrate. “They are waiting for more clarity,” he explained.
The court has banned barium, which is generally used in anaars, chakras, rockets and phooljaris. Almost all the eco-friendly products can be manufactured, but a few categories can come out only when the court gives its directions on barium – the chemical element used to produce the colour green.
Although, the ‘green crackers’ will reduce emissions by at least 30 % scientists feel that these will hardly help clean up the air.
But the response has been enthusiastic. “The eco-friendly route, if adopted properly, can do wonders especially since the fire-crackers industry along with NEERI is doing its best to design improved formulations, even smokeless firecrackers and as we go ahead, we will have many variants and compositions developed by us and other six CSIR institutions,” according to NEERI director Rakesh Kumar.
The hunt for fireworks emitting little or no smoke has intensified over the past few years when Delhi and its neighbouring states were choked in a haze, so much so that the government had to bring punishing measures such as fines for stubble-burning.
And this Diwali, memories of that smoke shroud returns to haunt. Director Dr Gufran Beig of the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) which tracks pollution levels has sent out a warning already – Delhi’s air quality has plummeted to “poor”. Beig is hopeful that green crackers will help reduce extreme pollution but he admits that the air cannot be cleaned overnight, but steady progress is happening.
Unfortunately, far only 160 manufacturers are on board and number is a whimper considering the size of India’s fireworks industry that is worth IRs 20,000 crore in annual sales but largely remains a non-organised industry. That amount includes IRs 5,000 crore of Chinese products, market experts say, though possession and sale of imported fireworks are illegal.
China has no reason to worry about any Indian ban on its goods, according to an article in The Global Times, basing its argument on the premise that “India’s manufacturing sector is highly uncompetitive against China’s, which is able to offer daily necessities with a high performance-price ratio.”
The article then brings Prime Minster Modi into its argument who has been quoted as telling Network18 that – “Some Indians are choosing to boycott Chinese products, it is a matter for the public to decide. As far as public sentiment toward Chinese goods is concerned, we should leave it to their sooj-boojh (wisdom).”
But experts feel the Chinese boycott is doomed to fail and Indian people will eventually comply with the wisdom of the consumer who promotes the ghost of nationalism to boycott Chinese products in the short term but will finally choose products with a high performance-price ratio in the long term, no matter where those products are made.
And coming to noise pollution, Diwali was kinder on the ears last year, compared to previous years, according to The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), India’s top pollution watchdog.
The data showed that the ambient noise level at 70 locations in 7 major cities—Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Lucknow, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad revealed that compared to last Diwali, 56 locations witnessed a decrease in and 10 an increase in noise pollution during the day. 53 locations saw a decrease and 14 places an increase. Out of 70 locations, only 9 locations are meeting both the daytime and night-time standards.
Noise pollution causes deleterious effects on the health and psychological well-being of people. Experts say noise in excess of 90 decibels can cause neurosis and nervous breakdown and eventually loss of hearing and irreversible changes in the nervous system.
With air and noise pollution reaching emergency levels in the capital and adjoining areas, the Centre is planning to meet state environment ministers to discuss measures to improve the quality of the atmosphere.
So come this Diwali, according to both PM Modi and NEERI, the decision to reduce air and noise pollution will lie literally in the hands of the Indian people.
Will Indians get enlightened and listen to sound advice this Dipawali? Well, this is a question that can only be answered when the after-effects of this festival are complied and revealed by the relevant agencies.
Once the sound and smoke have settled down and the lights dimmed will we know, if this Diwali was ‘sweet’ music to the ears of the environmentalists, as compared to previous years.
QatarIndians wishes all its readers a Happy, Prosperous and Safe Diwali!